How Can I Eat a Grain-Free Diet?

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How can I eat a grain-free diet, you ask? It seems like an impossible feat these days when grains are in everything you pick up in the grocery store. We are encouraged to eat a grain-free diet for better health, but we need a little help to learn how to make this feasible within our lifestyle.

How can we live without bread and cakes and pasta?  These are all the things we have learned to love since we were kids. They are the staples of life we were taught, so who can live without grains? Seems impossible.

The first question is why do you want to eat a grain-free diet? Do you have medical conditions that warrant a restriction or elimination of all grains? Should you be guarded against grains containing gluten or all grains?

From what I read, there seems to be equal arguments on the topic of whether eating or abstaining from grains is warranted. What both the cons and pros side agree on is reducing or eliminating processed and refined grains from our diets.

Grain-free baked breadsThe important element in the argument is to be certain that each side is talking about the same “food”. By definition, a “whole grain” contains all parts of the seed, while refined grains often have the bran or germ removed, leaving just the highly starchy endosperm. Whole grains can be a source of nutrients like B-vitamins, magnesium, and others, but in refined grains most of these beneficial parts are removed.

Grains are made up of three main parts:

  1. Bran – the hard outer layer or shell
  2. Germ –  the core of the seed that provides nutrients when it sprouts and grows
  3. Endosperm – the starchy food source for the growth of the seed

Be diligent about reading food labels. If you are in search of whole grain foods in place of refined and processed grains, look for the word “whole” before the grain. For instance, look for whole grain wheat, 100% whole wheat, or 100% whole grain, and don’t be fooled by whole wheat.

Some foods are always whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, and wild rice. Foods listed on labels that are not whole grains but could trick you are:

  • 100% wheat
  • Multi-grain
  • Contains whole grain
  • 7 grains
  • Cracked wheat
  • Made with whole grains
  • Made with whole wheat
  • Bran

There are a lot of variations on a grain-free diet, but generally, prohibited foods include:

  • Bread
  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Bran
  • Bulgar
  • Couscous
  • Farina
  • Kamut
  • Orzo
  • Semolina
  • Graham flour
  • Spelt
  • Cornflour
  • Millet
  • Oats (if contaminated by growing or processing near other grains)
  • Corn
  • Cornmeal
  • Rice
  • Teff
  • Montina flour
  • Sorghum
  • Beer and other wheat-derived alcohol

Should I Or Should I Not Remove Grains From My Diet?

Should you be avoiding grains? Here are some pros and cons offered by the Academy of Culinary Nutrition:

“Avoiding Grains

Pros

A grain-free diet can lead to some of the following health benefits:

  • Better digestive function
  • Improved cholesterol status
  • Weight loss
  • A reduction in inflammation and autoimmune conditions
  • A better gut ecology, or microbiome
  • Decreased intake of anti-nutrients such as lectin and phytic acid, which can lead to better nutrient absorption

Cons

Grain-free diets aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. Here are some of the negative aspects:

  • Low grain intake can result in increased consumption of conventionally-raised feedlot animal products, which can be pro-inflammatory
  • One must be strictly grain-free for maximum benefit, which can be challenging
  • Increased consumption of nuts, and these can be difficult to digest if eaten in large quantities or if they aren’t soaked to release anti-nutrients
  • Difficulty eating out or at other people’s homes

Consuming Grains

Pros

Grains are a rich source of nutrients, including fibre, B vitamins (they help with stress and boost energy levels), and minerals like magnesium and iron. Some of the benefits of eating grains are:

  • Better pooping and regularity, due to the high fibre content
  • Improved overall longevity
  • Blood sugar balance, satiety and reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • Improved weight management
  • Protection against cardiovascular disease
  • With proper cooking techniques, anti-nutrients can be reduced or eliminated

One thing to keep in mind is when we say ‘grains’, we mean grains in their whole form, not processed refined flours and starchy foods like bagels and English muffins. Think a pot of quinoa or brown rice, not a product with the healthwashing term ‘whole grain’ splashed on the label.

Cons

Carbo-tarians may experience some of the following negative health effects:

  • According to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, grains can cause an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut
  • Reduced nutrient absorption, due to the content of anti-nutrients in grains
  • May cause tooth decay
  • Refined grain consumption can lead to obesity, blood sugar imbalances, mood changes, heart disease and inflammation”

To Be Grain-Free Or Not To Be Grain-Free

Grain-Free loaf of breadIt sounds to me as though the jury is still out on this issue. It will take some of your own experimentation to make the determination if you feel better after eliminating grains from your diet for at least 30 days. Is it worth it? Did eliminating grains from your diet have a noticeable positive impact on your health?

What can you eat on a grain free diet and what substitutions could work for you? Here are some suggestions from the Academy of Culinary Nutrition:

  • Use lettuce to wrap burgers and sandwiches
  • Make deconstructed sandwiches by scattering your sandwich toppings over greens
  • Use slices of zucchini, eggplant, sweet potato or butternut squash to replace noodles in lasagna or pasta dishes
  • Form pizza and pie crusts using cauliflower, ground nuts or ground seeds
  • Make pizza crusts using chickpea or lentil flour (these also make great pancakes or crepes)
  • Use ground cauliflower or parsnips in place of rice
  • Use almond flour, coconut flour, or sunflower seed flour in baking

Additionally, from Dr. Axe, here is more helpful information:

Foods to eat in moderation on a grain-free diet include:

  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa
  • Potatoes
  • Legumes (beans, peas and lentils)
  • Sugar and sweeteners (stick to stevia, monk fruit, raw honey or coconut palm sugar)
  • Wine (preferably red) and some wheat-free liquors

There are some great recipes available online that are really tasty which I highly recommend. We have done the following, not for the specific purpose of eliminating grains from our diet but just to include more plant-based foods. These worked very well, and we will continue to prepare these meals:

  • Cauliflower Rice as a substitute for white rice. Saves calories and brings more plant-based food into your diet.
  • Spiralized veggies, ie green and yellow squash to substitute pasta.
  • Spaghetti Squash in place of spaghetti pasta
  • Iceberg lettuce as wraps in place of grain-baked wraps and tortillas
  • Cauliflower pizza crusts. Try this, it’s really good!

Granted, it won’t be easy and may take some time to adopt a taste to the change in your eating plan, but it can be done. Whether it will be a permanent lifestyle change for you or not will depend on the changes you see in your own body and will rest with you and your physician. You know your body better than anyone, and the changes will let you know if you should continue or not.

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